What will it take for Carlisle United to survive in League One?

Improvement – we all know that. A heightened points-per-game tally, sure.

But can we be any more precise about exactly what the Blues will need to do in order to salvage their third tier status?

Let’s take a look at the numbers.


This isn’t of course an exact science but by looking at patterns over recent years we can at least get a picture of what a run to survival might look like.

Over the previous ten seasons in League One, it would have taken an average of 47 points to remain in the division.

If that is Carlisle’s notional target – it could be more, could be less – then it would leave them in need of 27 points from their remaining 20 games.

News and Star: The defeat at Exeter left United on 20 points from their first 26 gamesThe defeat at Exeter left United on 20 points from their first 26 games (Image: Barbara Abbott)

They currently have 20 from their first 26, at an average of 0.77 per game.

Paul Simpson’s side would need to improve that considerable, to 1.35 points per game to hit that 47-point mark come the end of April.

So, something like seven wins and six draws and seven defeats from the remaining 20 fixtures would get them in the ball-park.

Considering the first 26 have yielded four wins, eight draws and 14 defeats, the uplift needed is plain.


What is also clear is that Carlisle are going to have to defy the bookies in order to survive.

They’ve done that before – last season, for instance, they were nobody’s favourites for promotion, and look what happened.

This time, the bookies are increasingly certain of United’s fate again to the point where they are now favourites for relegation.

News and Star: Carlisle are above Fleetwood but their relegation odds are shorterCarlisle are above Fleetwood but their relegation odds are shorter (Image: Richard Parkes)

Although Fleetwood Town are bottom of the table (with a game in hand) and Carlisle 23rd, it is the Cumbrians who have the shortest odds for the drop.

William Hill price a return to League Two at 1/6 for Carlisle, with the likes of Betway, Unibet and Bet365 opting for 1/5, which appears the longest price on the market.

Fleetwood are also 1/5 with some bookmakers but 1/3 with Betfair and Paddy Power.

Cheltenham Town, who are third bottom, are also odds on with prices ranging from 1/4 to 10/11.

Exeter City and Reading are short odds-against with Burton Albion also far from out of the woods at 7/4 (SkyBet).

Carlisle, meanwhile, are 6/4 to finish bottom of the league.

Over to United again, then, to prove the bookies don’t know everything…


A revival in the second half of a season is nothing new in Carlisle’s history.

Take 2021/22, for instance, when Paul Simpson inspired a stunning turnaround. From the last 15 games of the season the Blues accrued 25 points to stay up in League Two.

That sort of ratio this time would put Carlisle on course for a 53-point finish – a number which would have guaranteed safety in each of the last ten League One campaigns.

News and Star: Carlisle have staged a resurgence or two under Paul SImpson before, remember...?Carlisle have staged a resurgence or two under Paul SImpson before, remember...? (Image: Barbara Abbott)

Other survivals have come with late-in-the-day form over the years. In 2000/01, for example, Ian Atkins’ battlers took 21 points from their last 14 games to survive by the skin of their teeth in Division Three, having mustered 27 from 32 games previously.

And while United did not ultimately stay up in 2003/04, the second-half resurgence in Simpson’s first spell was still outstanding, and a repeat of that season’s last 20 games, which brought 30 points, would put Carlisle in the picture for survival this time.


Ok, fiction time. But you have to dream. Here’s how we imagine the run-in could look if it leads the Cumbrians to safety. Buckle up…

OXFORD UNITED (H) – Stung by criticism of their poor showing at Exeter, United are galvanised against the play-off chasers and, after a spirited performance, a late close-range home debut goal from Luke Armstrong has Brunton Park rocking. 1-0 WIN

BARNSLEY (A) – A first league trip to Oakwell since 1986 sees Simpson’s side frustrate the Tykes for long spells, but a Devante Cole effort after the hour mark allows the hosts to take control and, after he adds another, a late Joe Garner header is only a consolation. 2-1 DEFEAT

CHELTENHAM TOWN (A) – A six-pointer in the west Country, and Carlisle make a feisty start, going 2-0 up inside the first 25 minutes thanks to Armstrong and Jordan Gibson. Tom Pett’s 48th-minute strike brings the hosts back into it but his red card costs Darrell Clarke’s men, who can’t fight back. 2-1 WIN

BOLTON WANDERERS (H) – Memories of October’s brilliant win at the Toughsheet dominate the build-up but Ian Evatt’s Bolton are more robust and less error-strewn at Brunton Park, and their quality tells as Dion Charles and George Thomason wrap up a superior away win. 2-0 DEFEAT

LEYTON ORIENT (A) – Facing Orient isn’t exactly a fixture that puts joys in the hearts of United, but they catch Richie Wellens’ team on a mediocre day and a strong tactical showing from the Blues keeps them in it throughout. Jon Mellish hits the post as Carlisle have the better of things, taking a point back from London. 0-0 DRAW

PORTSMOUTH (H) – The bookies’ odds for a Carlisle win are as long as they’ve been all season but Simpson’s side give John Mousinho’s pacesetters an uncomfortable time of it at Brunton Park. Gibson’s penalty on the stroke of half-time sends Brunton Park into eruption before Colby Bishop heads the visitors level. 1-1 DRAW

BURTON ALBION (A) – Carlisle summon the spirit of 2015’s stoic performance at the Pirelli, and pull off a win that sucks the Brewers right into the slog. Sam Lavelle’s goal after a six-yard-box scramble puts United in front and the hosts can’t break the Blues down. 1-0 WIN

CAMBRIDGE UNITED (H) – Another big game against a team in their sights, and Carlisle produce one of their most convincing performances of the season in front of a hopeful crowd. Armstrong gets them going with an early header, Owen Moxon’s 20-yard drive makes it two and, in added time, sub Dan Butterworth finishes off a beleaguered Cambridge. 3-0 WIN

News and Star: Owen MoxonOwen Moxon (Image: Ben Holmes)

BRISTOL ROVERS (A) – United are on a sudden roll and take their momentum to the Memorial Ground, where an impressive travelling support witnesses a nuggety away win to make it three in a row. There is little in the game after Chris Martin cancels out Josh Emmanuel’s opener, but a foul on Mellish gives Gibson the chance to win it from the spot, and he does so with ease. 2-1 WIN

READING (H) – Four-in-a-row eludes the Blues against a Reading side who produce the better quality football on the day and have Carlisle chasing for much of things. It requires a late deflected Jack Robinson goal to keep United’s recent unbeaten run intact against Ruben Selles’ visitors. 1-1 DRAW

CHARLTON ATHLETIC (A) – The resurgence is checked at The Valley, where Carlisle suffer one of their sterile afternoons of old. United dominate the first 20 minutes but after Armstrong heads against the crossbar, the Addicks respond with bite and two Corey Blackett-Taylor goals underline the hosts’ superiority. 2-0 DEFEAT

BARNSLEY (H) – Simpson produces a surprise by leaving Armstrong on the bench but the decision sees a rested and galvanised Joe Garner as the game’s dominant player. He heads home a Robinson free-kick and is then bundled over in the box as Gibson notches another penalty. Sub Sam Cosgrove’s late goal against his old club fails to temper United’s joy. 2-1 WIN

SHREWSBURY TOWN (A) – The prospect of another Feeney-Simmo set-to is doused by handshakes before the game but then Carlisle’s former defender heads the Shrews in front and shushes the Blues’ affronted fans. A slog of a game is then salvaged as sub Ryan Edmondson poaches a rebound with 20 minutes to go. 1-1 DRAW

STEVENAGE (H) – The visit of Steve Evans’ promotion-chasers isn’t many Blues fans’ idea of an easy opportunity at this crucial stage of the season, and so it proves. Stevenage once again remind us why they are so awkward and well-tuned opponents, and Jamie Reid hits the only goal on a frustrating afternoon. 1-0 DEFEAT

PETERBOROUGH UNITED (A) – Another of those days when the other side simply have too much. Carlisle are well beaten at London Road as Ricky Jade-Jones, Kwame Poku and sub David Ajiboye all score to render Moxon’s free-kick slim consolation. 3-1 DEFEAT

LINCOLN CITY (H) – Former FA colleagues Paul Simpson and Michael Skubala have a convivial relationship across the dugouts and a game unfolds in which neither side truly makes an enemy of the other. Armstrong comes closest for United but a game of few shots ends appropriately. 0-0 DRAW

NORTHAMPTON TOWN (A) – What looks like a landmark win is sealed in the 82rd minute when Robinson’s corner is attacked by Ben Barclay and deflects into the net off Cobblers defender Akin Odimayo. There is drama in added time when Northampton are awarded a penalty for handball against Lavelle, but Gabe Breeze earns hero status by parrying Kieron Bowie’s spot-kick. 1-0 WIN

BLACKPOOL (H) – Carlisle are now a couple of results from safety but, in typical United style, keep fans sweating a little longer. They go hard at Blackpool early on and Armstrong’s close-range finish puts them in front before half-time. But a second-half masterclass from Jordan Rhodes gives the Seasiders’ big travelling support a day to remember. 1-2 DEFEAT

News and Star: Jordan GibsonJordan Gibson (Image: Barbara Abbott)

WYCOMBE WANDERERS (H) – A bumper crowd rises to the occasion and an inspired Carlisle side simply have too much for Matt Bloomfield’s Wycombe. Gibson’s first-half strike from range is followed by a counter-attacking second by sub Sean Maguire. There is a pitch invasion at full-time with United now looking highly likely to survive. 2-0 WIN

DERBY COUNTY (A) – A tough-looking last-day fixture is a little less stressful in the knowledge that only a dramatic goal-difference swing could now send Simpson’s side down. In the event, they take Derby to the wire and earn a respectable point thanks to Garner’s volley. Burton’s defeat at already-relegated Fleetwood confirms the inevitable for the Brewers and United’s 50-point finish sees them survive with a small breathing space. Simpson is applauded by all sides of Pride Park and the Blues live to fight for another League One season… 1-1 DRAW